- Combination skin is generally oily on the nose and forehead (the T-zone) and dry on the cheeks.
- Mild face washes that are neither too moisturizing nor too drying work best for this skin type.
- Use a face wash once or twice a day on combination skin, depending on what your skin best tolerates.
- You may need to use a different face wash depending on the season.
An effective face wash is an integral step of a good skin care routine. But if you have combination skin, selecting one can be a difficult process – unless you know what ingredients to look for and what to avoid.
How to Tell If You Have Combination Skin
Combination skin is characterized by both oily and dry areas of the face. Usually, the T-zone (forehead, nose and chin) have excess oil while the cheeks are dry.
How to Choose a Face Wash for Combination Skin
In addition to their cleansing properties, face washes are formulated to counterbalance dryness or oiliness in the skin. Dry skin can benefit from a moisturizing face wash, while face washes for oily skin can help manage excess oil production.
Face wash vs. facial cleanser
A face wash is a liquid product that produces a lather to deeply cleanse the skin.
Facial cleansers, on the other hand, do not create a foam. They are available in the form of cleansing oils, cream cleansers and gel cleansers, and are generally more hydrating than face washes.
People with combination skin may decide to use both a face wash and a cleanser to address the unique needs of their skin. For instance, you could use a face wash with oil control for the oily parts of your face and a milder cleanser for the rest of your face.
If you’re looking for a face wash that can be used on your entire face, you’ll want to focus on mild, emollient or soothing formulations that can reduce oiliness without aggravating the dry areas of your face.
Combination skin and acne
If you have combination skin and acne, you’ll benefit from a face wash that can manage sebum production and breakouts while still being gentle enough for everyday use.
Acne in drier combination skin is best managed with localized spot treatments because face washes designed for acne-prone skin are generally too drying for daily use on this skin type. Instead, choose a cream or gel containing benzoyl peroxide or retinol.
Ingredients to Look for in Face Washes for Combination Skin
The following ingredients may offer the best benefits for combination skin by regulating oil production, hydrating and exfoliating the skin.
When your combination skin is feeling oily, incorporate a face wash containing salicylic acid (SA) into your skin care routine. SA is a keratolytic, meaning it dissolves the keratin that binds dead skin cells together to exfoliate the skin without any scrubbing. It also slows oil production in the skin.
You may be more likely to need a face wash with SA during the summer, when your skin may be oilier. Use the product only a few times a week and follow up with a moisturizer applied strategically on the areas of your face that need it most.
Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a humectant, meaning it helps skin retain water, and has been proven to help skin retain elasticity. During drier winter months, a face wash containing HA can prevent your combination skin from drying out too much without causing pimples in your T-zone.
Face washes with HA are safe for everyday use on combination skin.
Vitamin E is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant that helps support skin health. Used topically, it’s an effective moisturizer and may prevent sun damage. A face wash containing vitamin E will moisturize the dry areas of your face without being too heavy for the oily areas.
Glycolic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) commonly used as a chemical peel. Formulated into an exfoliating cleanser, the small size of its molecules helps it deeply penetrate the skin to wash away dead skin cells and impurities.
Since glycolic acid can leave your skin feeling dry, you will most likely use a face wash containing it in the summer or if your combination skin tends toward oiliness.
The aloe vera plant has soothing, hydrating properties. A face wash containing aloe vera gel can hydrate drier combination skin while calming irritation and inflammation.
For combination skin that tends toward dryness, chamomile can soothe redness and irritation, especially during the dry winter months. Chamomile is gentle enough for everyday use, even on sensitive skin.
Ingredients to Avoid
People with combination skin should avoid face washes designed for very oily skin. Even if you experience oiliness on some areas of your face, the following ingredients are too harsh for the dry areas of your face and can lead to irritation.
Benzoyl peroxide fights acne by increasing cell turnover in the skin and killing acne-causing bacteria. However, its tendency to dry out skin make it unsuitable for daily use in a face wash for combination skin.
Alcohol is a common ingredient in face washes that is too drying to be used on combination skin. It should especially be avoided in the winter when your skin is drier.
Retinol, a vitamin A derivative, is considered difficult to use by almost everyone: its skin-tightening, anti-aging effects are often accompanied by dryness, redness and peeling. If you have combination skin, avoid using retinol in your daily skin care routine. Instead, use it only occasionally and in combination with a good moisturizer.
How to Use Face Wash for Combination Skin
A face wash can be used once or twice a day on combination skin. Many people prefer to thoroughly cleanse with a facial wash in the evening to remove makeup, oil and accumulated grime from the day. If necessary, finish off this deep cleansing with a toner targeted at any oily areas such as the T-zone.
In the morning, you can simply splash water on your face or, if your skin feels greasy, use a face wash. Once your face is clean, always follow with a sunscreen to prevent accumulating sun damage such as fine lines and dark spots.
You may find you need to use a face wash twice a day in the summer and only once in the winter. If twice-daily use is too drying for your face, limit use to evening only.
Because combination skin has both dry and oily areas, it can be difficult to choose a skin care product, such as a face wash, that you use across the entire face.
Various face washes are available that are formulated with effective ingredients such as glycolic, salicylic or hyaluronic acid to address the uniques needs of combination skin. For spot treatments use benzoyl peroxide, but avoid ingredients such as alcohol or retinol, as they may prove to be too harsh for combination skin.
By choosing a gentle cleanser with mild ingredients, avoiding harsh anti-acne products and changing your skin care routine with the season, you can have combination skin that’s healthy, moisturized and balanced.
- Keratolytic Agent (2018) Integrative Medicine (Fourth Edition), 2018. sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/keratolytic-agent
- Leyden, J.J., Wortzman, M., & Baldwin, E.K. (2008). Antibiotic-resistant Propionibacterium acnes suppressed by a benzoyl peroxide cleanser 6%. Cutis, 82(6), 417-21. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19181031
- Pavicic, T., Gagulitz, GG., Lersch, P., Schwach-Abdellaoui, K., Malle, B., Korting, HC., Farwick, M. (2011) Efficacy of cream-based novel formulations of hyaluronic acid of different molecular weights in anti-wrinkle treatment. J Drugs Dermatol, 10(9), 990-1000. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22052267
- Soleymani, T., Lanoue, J., & Rahman, Z. (2018). A Practical Approach to Chemical Peels: A Review of Fundamentals and Step-by-step Algorithmic Protocol for Treatment. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 11(8), 21–28. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6122508/